Thursday, March 11, 2010

Childhood celebrity: Wake up, parents!

I'm going to try to not be judgmental here.

Yet another child star, Corey Haim, has died, after a long struggle with drug abuse. Add his name to the massive list of troubled actors and actresses who have suffered from or succumbed to the curse of youthful Hollywood stardom. Let's start in the 1930s and move forward from there.

• Judy Garland — died at age 47 of an accidental drug overdose.
•  Robert Blake — in 2005, found liable for the wrongful death of his estranged wife.
•  Ricky Nelson — plagued by severe drug abuse until his death at age 45.
•  Anissa Jones (Buffy, from Family Affair) — died at age 18 from a lethal combination of cocaine, PCP, seconal and Quaaludes.
• Three members of the Eight is Enough family (Lani O'Grady, Willie Aames and Adam Rich) — all three shackled by addiction, including O'Grady's painkiller-related death in 2001.
•  The entire child cast of Different Strokes (Dana Plato, Todd Bridges and Gary Coleman) — again, all besieged with legal issues, Plato overdosing and dying in 1999.

The list goes on. For every child star who clears the massive hurdle into adult celebrity, there's a wasteland of those who crash into it. For every Ron Howard or Kurt Russell, there are ten Macaulay Culkins, River Phoenixes, Lindsay Lohans, Leif Garretts or MacKenzie Phillipses.

And something tells me there's a fairly ambitious parent or two behind each one. We hear these people say, "Oh, no, of course I'm not forcing her into it. She's wanted to act since the day she looked at her first glamour shot. You can ask her yourself...when she gets back from her botox appointment."

While a lucky, young woman may one day reach the summit and make it to the Miss America pageant, there are 500 other little girls whose parents insist on entering them in the local pageant. They compel these poor little kids to parade around the Airport Marriott conference room in full make-up, hoping their woman-child becomes the next Miss Meal Ticket.

It's hard enough to be a kid. How many of us would be willing to trade our current lives for the one we experienced as a thirteen-year-old? I'm guessing not many of us would.

So how about this: Imagine being a few years removed from your last television series, with no real prospects on the horizon. You're driving around one day, and decide to slip into a McDonald's for a quick bite of McSomething with Cheese. As you grab the white bag and walk out the door, a guy approximately your age blocks your path and asks, "Hey, Erkel, sign my Quarter Pounder box, will ya?"

And we wonder why these kids become such messed-up adults.

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